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Friday, February 16, 2024

History-making American judge dies

Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman to serve on the US Supreme Court, has passed away at 93

Retired US Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman to serve on the nation’s highest judicial panel, has died at age 93 from complications related to dementia and a respiratory illness.

O’Connor, who retired in 2006 after working more than 24 years on the high court, passed away on Friday morning at her home in Phoenix, the court said in a statement. She was appointed to the bench in 1981 by then-President Ronald Reagan and, as the Supreme Court’s most centrist jurist, she cast the swing vote in some of its most contentious cases.

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“Sandra Day O’Connor blazed an historic trail as our nation’s first female justice,” Chief Justice John Roberts said in the statement. “She met that challenge with undaunted determination, indisputable ability, and engaging candor. We at the Supreme Court mourn the loss of a beloved colleague, a fiercely independent defender of the rule of law, and an eloquent advocate for civics education.”

O’Connor announced her retirement at age 75, saying she needed to attend to her ailing husband, John O’Connor, who died from complications related to Alzheimer’s disease in 2009. Friday’s Supreme Court statement indicated that her dementia was probably also caused by Alzheimer’s.

The timing of her retirement enabled then-President George W. Bush to appoint her replacement, the more conservative Justice Samuel Alito. She also cast the deciding vote in a 2000 case that enabled Bush to become president, ending the Florida recount in his race against Al Gore. O’Connor supported the court’s rulings protecting abortion as a constitutional right, while Alito wrote the 2022 decision that overturned that longstanding precedent.

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Then-President Barack Obama awarded O’Connor the Medal of Freedom in 2009, saying she had paved the way for other women to hold high-level judgeships. Three other women have served on the Supreme Court since O’Connor was appointed. O’Connor “forged a new trail and built a bridge behind her for all young women to follow,” Obama said.

O’Connor cast the decisive vote in a ruling upholding the right of colleges to admit students based on skin color, as well as a case that enabled the creation of more congressional districts with black voters in the majority.